New - Week Two: "Anyone Who Belongs To Christ"

Today we're going to be continuing the sermon series that we started last week, a sermon series on grace entitled, New.  We are focusing on one passage of Scripture throughout this series, which might seem kind of odd at first, but when you think of the three sermons in this series as one long sermon in three parts, it kind of makes more sense.  I hope. 

The passage of Scripture that we're talking about is 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 which reads like this: 

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!

Last week we talked about what it meant to not have our past held against us. The truth that we learned was simple:  Who you were is in the past, who you aren't isn't interesting and who you become is a choice.  

Listen, I am all about the grace of God.  I will never forget the first time I set foot in the first church my wife and I attended as a couple--a Presbyterian church in Ocoee, FL.  The pastor preached on the grace and love of God.  It felt to me like the first time I had ever heard that kind of message, and I cried like a baby.  Merideth actually reminded me that for the first several weeks that we attended worship there, I cried every time.  

So you are going to hear a lot about the grace of God every time I stand up to preach.  Christianity is laced with way too much judgment, lately.  We need a serious grace infusion. 

But don't mistake my emphasis on grace as what some Christians have referred to as "easy-believism."  God's grace isn't cheap--it's costly.  To extend his grace to all of Creation, God took on human form in the man Jesus Christ, and went to the greatest lengths to show his love, and forgiveness.  

And because of the love of God through Jesus' passion and resurrection, you and I don't have to dwell on our past sins, mistakes, scars and bad decisions. 

But we do have an obligation to not cheapen God's grace by continuing to live like we did in our past, by blindly and willingly making mistakes and bad decisions. 

Today we are going to focus on this one very simple, and very powerful truth:  When Jesus loves away your past, it transforms your present. 

Our theme, our inspiration for this series is centered around tattoos--what they mean, why we get them, what they represent and how they are metaphors for you and I regarding the grace and mercy of God.  

I was doing a little research for this sermon series and I stumbled across some interesting stuff.  When you start using "worst tattoos ever" as a search term, you can bet your life it's going to be awesome.  So here's a few of the very worst tattoo photos on the internet: 

This girl took a horrible selfie in the mirror and then her boyfriend had it tattooed on to his shoulder. 
This guy obviously went to Yoda for some life advice. 
Christopher Walken tattoo? Great. Christopher Walken as Frankenstein? Not so good. 
When you love Bob Marley but have no idea that he looks nothing like Jimi Hendrix
I bet he regrets that. 
This dude must have loved what he ate at McDonald's because he tattooed the receipt on to his arm. 
This is never a good idea.

I'm not sure if you have noticed, but tattoos have started really becoming a phenomenon.  There are more people getting tattoos now than any other time in history.  Some of that has to do with the availability of artists and studios, along with the removal of the social taboo of tattoos.  But there's something else at work here.  There is a psychology of tattooing that I think speaks directly into the conversation that we are having today about grace and following Jesus. 

Bear with me a bit. 

Did you know that several years ago archaeologists uncovered the body of a 5000 year old man that had been frozen in ice?  That's pretty incredible in and of itself, but what was extremely curious about his body is that it was covered in tattoos.  Historians, sociologists, paleontologists, archaeologists all don't know exactly why the man is covered in tattoos--5000 year old tattoos.  

One theory, and I think it's a good one, is that his tattoos were part of a quest to be better than ordinary.  This same quest goes on today.  Tattoos lift up the idea of an eternal present.  The person who tattoos themselves preserves something in time, a moment, a rite of passage, a sign of belonging.  Who cares what happens next, right?  Who cares about wrinkles, and saggy skin?  The tattoo preserves the moment, regardless of how it twists and fades.  

It's also a painful rite of passage that many societies include as part of the journey to adulthood.  Most people today engage in it for the same reasons. Young adults do it to celebrate their emancipation from their parents--even though they probably still live with them.  Older adults do it to prove they "still got it."  

Tattoos are also a symbol of belonging, of inclusion.  That 5000 year old man with tattoos was probably identified by other tribes as belonging to a particular group because of them.  They also set him apart as a result.  People are still doing this--seeking to be set apart, even while being part of a tribe.  

And finally, tattoos are a symbol that "The Man" doesn't own you.  I've talked to people who have covered their bodies in tattoos that can't be hidden about how it has affected their careers.  More than one of them told me, "It has definitely kept me from getting some jobs, but honestly, they aren't the kind of jobs that I would want anyway."  

And you thought they were just tattoos...  

So how does this fit into our conversation about grace, and transformation and 2 Corinthians 5:16-17?  More neatly than you would think, actually.  Let's read the passage again: 

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!

I want to key in on the phrase, "in Christ," which also is translated, "belonging to Christ."  What does the Apostle Paul mean by this?  

Did you know that the Greek word Christianos, which means "follower of Christ" comes from the word Christos which means "anointed one."  But the ending to the Greek word Christianos is borrowed from the Latin to denote belonging to, as in property, as in slave ownership?  

So to say that you are a Christian is so much more than saying that you are a follower of Jesus Christ it is to say that you "belong to Jesus" or as Paul puts it here, you are "in Christ."  When we say that we follow or belong to Jesus, we are identifying ourselves as part of something that is far greater than we are--we are declaring that we are set apart from the ordinary.  We have no fear of the future because we are filled with unbelievable, childlike hope.  We have been emancipated from our past, and from the things that used to define us.  

And we declare unequivocally that we are no longer owned by the things of this world--our allegiance is with Jesus, and Jesus alone.  

And you thought that Christian was just a description...  

It's true that God doesn't hold our past against us.  Jesus took care of all of that for you and for me.  But it doesn't end there.  It can't end there.  When Jesus loves away your past, it transforms your present.  When you choose to follow Jesus, to call yourself a Christian, you belong to him, you are defined by him, and you absolutely can't live the way you used to live.  

You aren't defined by your past, but you need to learn from it. 

St. Augustine is famous for saying this:  "Love God, and do what you want."  I know that many of us who are gathered here really enjoy hearing that.  "Love God and do what I want? Whoo hoo!  It's a party baby!"  

But what Augustine meant by this simple statement is that when you truly love God, with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength--then the things that you want are the things after God's own heart.  What you want is what God wants, and what God wants is what you want.  

This is why Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to "love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself."  When you love God, when you belong to Jesus, you see the world and everyone around you differently, you simply cannot live the way you used to live.  

At our church we like to say that when you know Jesus, you show Jesus.  This is exactly what we mean.  When you belong to Christ, you want to show it.  You can't help but show it.  It comes out of you in every thing you do, every thing you say, every thought, word, deed.... Belonging to Jesus transforms you.  It's a clear sign and a symbol for you that you've truly begun to follow Jesus, when you realize that following him has transformed your life.  

When Jesus loves away your past, it transforms your present. 

My friend Mike was a Southern Baptist deacon, a Sunday school teacher and a lifelong student of the Bible.  When I met him he also was an atheist.  He had stopped believing in God, and was just going through the motions at his church because he didn't want to hurt his family, or his friends that he'd grown to love so deeply over the years.  

Mike new the Bible well. Very well.  He knew the Bible inside and out, but he didn't know Jesus.  Fortunately for Mike he attended a conference that I happened to be attending, too.  At this conference Mike confessed for the first time publicly in front of a whole bunch of pastors and church leaders that he had lost his faith, that he was living a lie.  

The leader of the conference spoke grace into Mike's life, intuitively recognizing that there was still a small spark of faith in there somewhere.  He told him to take all of his questions about life, the universe and everything and put them into a mental bucket, and then to label that bucket God, if he wanted to.  Because in the end, living as if there is no God, no mystery, no wonder is no way to live at all.  

That night Mike stood on the beach and prayed out loud for the first time in years.  A wave rushed up a bit too far on to the shore and covered his feet.  When he looked down he remembered his baptism, and all of the joy that he'd once felt at following Jesus and he knew that he belonged.  

His transformation cost him.  It cost him friendships when he admitted what he'd felt and believed for so long.  It cost him his church when we realized that he could no longer walk with people who more interested politics and elections than in changing the world.  

Every day Mike has to re-commit to the new life that he embraced when he decided to finally follow Jesus for real.  It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it. 

My friend Dave was a music minister's son, a lifelong Presbyterian and a musician.  He was also a crack addict.  One day he found himself in a real life Prodigal Son situation.  He called his mother on Mother's Day when he was high. As he was saying goodbye to her and telling her that he loved her, he looked down and saw the crack pipe in his hand and he knew that he had to change. 

It was a long road back.  He had to surrender himself to rehab, and surrender his heart and soul to God.  Dave began following Jesus more fully, using his musical gifts to play in praise bands, and to lead worship.  His transformation cost him years of his life, it cost him his old habits, his friendships and it took him years to build back the trust that he had lost with his family.  But God has honored his commitment.  He has three awesome kids, leads worship every Sunday in his church, and is a vice president in a successful company.  

And every day, he has to re-commit to the new life that he embraced when he decided to finally follow Jesus for real.  It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it. 

That's a pretty hard and honest truth.  God's grace is amazing, but it isn't cheap.  It costs you to follow Jesus.  It might cost you old friendships that dragged you down.  It might cost you relationships that were killing your soul.  It might cost you habits that numbed your pain, but stole your heart.  

But if you know Jesus, you will want to show Jesus, and the cost won't matter. 

I've said this before, but it bears repeating:  God loves you just as you are, and he loves you far too much to let you stay that way.  

When Jesus loves away your past, it transforms your present. 


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